By Grizelda McClelland

Stephanie Judycki claims theater was her first childhood passion. And years later, as a graduate of the Program in Occupational Therapy at Washington University School of Medicine, she still retains an actor’s energy and acute skills of observation.

As a full-time therapist at Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, Stephanie routinely notes subtle visual cues in her performance. She kneels, reaches, extends, stands, pushes, and pulls — all to guide her pediatric patients and adults with disabilities through the patterned movement of dignifying daily activities. Her work also extends to treating individuals in a minimally conscious state who have suffered severe traumatic brain injury, for whom movement is therapeutically essential. In sum, Stephanie is both vigorous and dedicated.

Looking back at Stephanie’s family life, these characteristics are not surprising. Her mother’s family immigrated from Puerto Rico and rebuilt their lives from scratch in South Florida — or as Stephanie emphasizes — “literally from the ground up.” Her dad, who’d lost his own father, joined the military and took on the role of supporting his family while he was still young.  

The scholarship enabled me to see that I was capable of more than I thought. It’s like seeing yourself in many different lights and knowing that the sky is the limit for you if you have the right tools.

Stephanie Judycki, OTD ’22

Through sharing such histories, her parents emphasized hard work and the opportunity of education. And, from an early age, Stephanie learned to overcome challenges and made the family work ethic her own. Given the model of her parents, it is no surprise that Stephanie both received a scholarship to attend WashU and leveraged that opportunity to advance herself while learning how to help others.

As she says, “The scholarship enabled me to see that I was capable of more than I thought. It’s like seeing yourself in many different lights and knowing that the sky is the limit for you if you have the right tools.” She has learned firsthand that expectations can influence outcomes. This is the precise optimism and agency that Stephanie conveys to each one of her patients. Over careful and repeated sessions, she shares with them the “tools” that allow them to retain a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives — no matter their age or physical circumstances.

Stephanie carried the affirmation of support into her daily life at WashU. Describing the impact, she states, “This school not only sees my value as a student but also made an effort to show me that they wanted me to thrive there.” Not only did the recognition empower Stephanie academically—she flourished — it made her an advocate.

To be sure that advocacy applies to her patients, but it also applies to all those aspiring WashU scholars from backgrounds much like her own. Given her success, Stephanie wants to be sure that those students know that they too can truly launch at WashU.  

Stephanie Judycki, OTD ’22 | Support WashU graduate students through Make Way: Our Student Initiative

“I think these scholarships are all about opening doors,” she notes.  “So, I think that if there’s any way that I can not only advocate for more donors to provide these scholarships but also encourage students that came from similar backgrounds or have similar doubts to just apply, then I’ve done my job.”

When Stephanie describes her experience of mentorship and access to resources, such advocacy makes sense. She learned first-hand from Professor Carolyn Baum, an Occupational Therapy legend. She undertook research for the first time in her life and came to see that research and clinical work can often go hand and hand. And she performed in the School of Medicine’s musicals and made lifelong friends along the way.

Thanks to her scholarship support, Stephanie grew professionally and personally. Now, as an occupational therapist, she lives out her goal of enabling others to participate in the activities they value most.

Your gift of any amount in support of WashU’s Program in Occupational Therapy will help future dedicated and talented students pursue careers as healthcare providers, educators, consultants, and advocates.